The Media Guru
Jan 4, 2008



On their first show of 2008, BBC World’s Click have decided to find out more about a tourist hotspot that is aiming to become the world’s first cyberisland. & that island is Mauritius! Don’t miss this 4-min report on the latest from Mauritius.

Airing times (local GMT+4):
Friday 4th Jan 08 - 00.30 AM & 14.30 PM
Saturday 5th Jan 08 - 10.30 AM
Monday 7th Jan 08 - 19.30 PM
Tuesday 8th Jan 08 – 06.30 AM & 12.30 PM
You can also watch it online at bbcworld.com/click (Check in the archives if it’s not there)

Click’s Richard Taylor visits Mauritius, an island on a fast track to a digital future.

The Cyberisland
Given its popular perception, I was as surprised as the next holidaymaker to learn that Mauritius is striving to become none other than the world's first fully fledged cyberisland. But aspiring it is, and for a country which has built its wealth largely on tourism and sugar cane, it's a radical change of direction.

It's important to get things in perspective here. The kind of silicon found here is more of the sand variety than the highly-refined elements which make up the building blocks of your PC. Nevertheless, Mauritius does have its own Silicon Valley, of a sort.

In the shadow of history lies what Mauritius sees as the key to its future. The cybercity is very much a work in progress, but for the past four years the twelve-storey cybertower has been home to a cluster of tech-oriented companies - in one corner software developers, in another, remote data storage facilities for companies, and even countries, making sure their data is in safe hands.

If the cybercity is the physical embodiment of the cyberisland vision, its soul lies in the idea of coast-to-coast connectivity. The island's internet gateway to the rest of the world comes primarily in the form of a fibre optic cable, which, though reliable, is slow; an upgrade due this year should improve matters.

On the island itself though, the future lies in getting data over the air.

For the past two decades Shyam Roy has been at the helm of Emtel, an outfit which launched the first cellphone network in the southern hemisphere. More recently it gave Mauritius the first 3G network in Africa, making possible services like streaming mobile TV and remote video camera surveillance. Today it's moving beyond 3G to the even higher speed HSDPA.

"We have full, island-wide coverage with 3G," Roy explained. "I would say 98% of the population are covered. The rest are maybe valleys and mountains where they might not need the cover.

"In terms of HSDPA, we have around one third of the country covered now. But we will expand as soon as possible, probably to about three quarters of the island. The rest might not necessarily need HSDPA right now."

Also available is a wireless solution which needs no mobile, or even landline. Here you can buy a modem which uses the emerging wimax technology. It plugs straight into your PC, and receives its signal from a wimax base station a couple of kilometres away.

Wimax has been described as "wifi on steroids", with hotspots often spanning several kilometres. Currently three quarters of the island is blanketed in these hotspots, and the guys behind the service are eyeing up major expansion.

Alin Jalint, Nomad Networks: "Mauritius is actually a very challenging environment for wireless technologies because it has mountains, plateaus, very challenging terrain. The point is that if it's able to work in Mauritius - and it is - then we're going to be able to take it to any other environment easily."

Of course it’s no good offering services to a 1.2 million people ill-equipped to take advantage of them. Youngsters are now the firm target of a five-year plan at the end of which the government aims to have computer literacy sky-rocketing. And not just for the privileged few.

Two so-called cybercaravans have been doing the rounds in Mauritius for the past few years. They're essentially converted coaches with a dozen or so connected PCs, and it lends a new twist to the idea of the mobile internet. Their main aim is to get the disenfranchised online - from housewives to agricultural labourers who are experiencing technology often for the first time.

"Learning how to email and use basic applications are indispensable in today's world," one lady tells me.

Of course that’s true, but many of those emerging with IT skills end up using them in a limited capacity. Mirroring their English-language counterparts in India, francophone call centres are now big business here, in the main giving French customers the impression they're receiving service from Marseilles rather than Mauritius.

It might be a job in IT, but it's far cry from the high-end IT skills required of software engineers or the like.

Nevertheless, it is progress. And for the Prime Minister turned President who laid the foundations of the cybercity and indeed the whole cyberisland concept, it’s enough to silence the cynics.

Anerood Jugnauth, President of Mauritius: “There was lots of criticism; that it was not going to help Mauritius, that it was a waste of time. Some people were even saying that I was putting up a white elephant that was going to be a burden to the economy of the country and all that. I didn't listen to all this.”

“I had my own mind. And of course in Government I convinced them that we should go forward, and everybody agreed. And now it's growing and we can make a cyberisland of Mauritius.”

“But of course it's going to be a gradual process.”
Original transcript here via BBCWorld’s Click.
Mauritian cyber island dream

Cyberisland? Fifth pillar of the economy? Computer Proficiency Programme? Democratization of Internet access?
I was sort of expecting these words to crop up in the report… & they did (indirectly). It was a good insight on our path to becoming a cyberisland… but unfortunately quite incomplete - I don’t blame them since they can’t interview everyone!

1st point: Building a cybertower doesn’t make Mauritius a cyberisland!
In the same way, making everyone computer literate doesn’t make of us a cyberpopulation!
Although the Ebene Cybertower One got the most intelligent building award (more here), it’s disappointing that it’s only used by outsourcing companies & for data storage (HQ of AfriNIC). For example, the Silicon Valley of India (i.e. Bangalore) not only has call-centres, but also major start-ups like InfoSys! & unlike Richard Taylor wrongly pointed out, we are not only francophone, but also bilingual, which should have given us an edge over competing nations. Unfortunately in Mauritius, CSE graduates are wasting their skills in call-centres…

2nd point: Internet via airwaves
I never knew that Emtel was the first company that launched a mobile network in the Southern Hemisphere! Wow! I remember very well those massive Nokia candy bars! & how only a few lucky people were able to afford one… just like HSDPA. High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (3.5G) is inaccessible to almost everyone. As for 3G, it can’t be considered as Internet since the connection is too expensive & bandwidth is limited.
WiMax on Nomad? Ok, Nomad was a revolutionary technology when it launched, but connection problems & its sensitivity to weather conditions makes it highly unreliable… We still need more antennas to maximise the efficiency of a WiMax network. & since newer mobile phones & laptops will be coming with WiMax built-in, it will be definitely useful in the future. & the guys behind Nomad should first make it work in Mauritius… before thinking of Rodrigues!

3rd point: The SAFE cable
This is the root of all problems… the SAFE cable bandwidth is limited & controlled by the same company that has a monopoly of all Internet access… the result - prices are among the highest in the world. Democratization of Internet Access? Providing access points in Post Offices doesn’t encourage Internet use! But giving incentives for purchasing a PC & making broadband more accessible is the key towards making Mauritius a cyberisland.
Being an essentially agrarian economy, the transformation to cyberisland won’t be easy. We don’t need call-centres, but multinational companies & start-ups. Did YouTube & Facebook start on 128k connections? The point is we need more bandwidth, i.e. more fibre optic links to the rest of the world.

Click’s report concludes that we are well on track to become a cyberisland, but I would add that the road is very long…
Anyway, any publicity is good publicity! At least we would now be known as something more than a tourist destination!

Update:
L'Express: BBC World parle de l’île Maurice des Tics

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InF said...

I fully agree with your points! :P

And as you said, it's a very very very long road we have in front of us. You might know how roads in Mauritius are, bumpy and full of holes. That's exactly how the road to Cyberislandism is! :P

Anonymous said...

Agreed! We people who live in Mauritius know way too well that we're very very far from considering ourselves cyberislanders. That building at Ebene, it's just a call-centre for us! :P

Nussaibah said...

Totally agree with you!

*sigh*

Anonymous said...

Merci pou fer koné p gagne sa lor click zordi. Mo pa pou rate sa.

Btw coumant tone guette sa avant?? Lor click so website?

Hehe mo p trouve Shyam Roy, fami ar moi sa, avant li ti p vine boire kot moi chaque fin d'année :P

Nomad aussi lor click :P, mais hope ki zot koné connection dan Moris kakes LOL

carrotmadman6 said...

@slasher

I saw it on Friday & downloaded it from BBC to get those screenshots... (took me 2h to download 40 MB!!!)

Anyway, in light of your recent job interview, i wonder whether that Click team knew what's the reality in those so-called Call Centres... :|

Anonymous said...

Ok, mais coumant tone prend 2 hours pou download 40 Mb?? Ou soit 400Mb??

Oui normal banne la pa pou koné ki vraiment passé dan banne chat centers la :P
Officielement li ene chat center kot zot operate chat, mais zot pa pou precise hot chat LOL

Btw, hier mone rate click, zordi mone mette reminder pou mo pa rate sa :P

carrotmadman6 said...

Yes!!! It took me 2h to download that 40 MB!! :(

At first it was top speed.. but the speed dropped to 5kb/s... :(

& on top of that it was the highest quality available! (256k)
Even YouTube is better than that!

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